Top five features in System Center Configuration Manager 2012

Colin Smith describes five of his favorite new features in Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2012. You can try these out by downloading the prebuilt Hyper-V VM of the Beta 2 release.

Earlier this month Microsoft released System Center Configuration Manager 2012 RC to TAP customers. A Release Candidate (RC) is feature complete code that has the potential to be the final RTM code unless any unexpected bugs emerge. This means that we are getting close to a final product.

I've worked with SMS and SCCM since 1994 and since Beta 2 was released at MMS in March, I've been getting familiar with SCCM 2012. Microsoft has made it extremely easy to get your feet wet by providing the download of SCCM 2012 Beta 2 in a prebuilt Hyper-V virtual machine. There is a lot of great new functionality in the new version but I will limit myself to what, in my opinion, are the top five new features.

#1 User-centric management

One of the big themes in SCCM 2012 is User Centric Management. This theme is carried forward throughout the product. Software distributions can now be targeted at users rather than just at devices. Think about a call center or a security desk, where multiple users share the same hardware. Previously when targeting a software distribution, SCCM limited you to collections based on systems but now software distributions can be directed at specific users or groups of users.  Additionally, users can define a primary device (or you can set up rules to determine a primary device) and have a different software policy for primary and non-primary devices. Consider the scenario where a manager logs onto a subordinates workstation temporarily, if the system is not designated as his primary device, any applications specifically targeted at managers primary devices, will not be available to him on that system.

#2 Configuration settings remediation

Desired Configuration Monitoring has been available since SMS 2003 and was renamed to Desired Configuration Management and enhanced in SCCM 2007. The ability to report and alert on compliance has been useful in monitoring and managing configuration drift. SCCM 2012 takes the concept of managing configuration drift to the next level. First of all, the feature is now called Configuration Settings and can be applied to desktops, servers, mobile devices and users (see point one above). My favourite new functionality is the ability to remediate WMI, registry, and script settings that are not compliant. Automated remediation can drastically reduce the time that a non-compliant configuration stays out of compliance.

#3 Collection-based configuration settings

In SMS and SCCM 2007 client configuration settings are designated at a site level. If different client agent settings are required for different devices then a separate site is required. Consider an environment where developers machines would have minimal agents (inventory only perhaps), or where servers have different requirements. In SCCM 2012, client settings can be customized and targeted at specific collections within the same site. This will reduce the complexity of many site hierarchies.

#4 Dependency-based software distribution

In SMS and SCCM 2007, software distributions are targeted at collections of devices. Typically, an administrator would create a collection that meets the pre-requisites for the application being deployed using a query and then associate the package to the collection with a n advertisement. This worked fine when the paradigm was device centric as long as the collection was built correctly. With user centric software distribution, it can be difficult to determine which device a particular software distribution will ultimately be targeted at.

In SCCM 2012 Requirement Rules and/or Global Conditions are used to specify preconditions for a deployment such as: available hardware (e.g., memory, available hard disk space, etc.), software pre-requisites (e.g., Office must be installed as a prerequisite for Office SP1), user affinity (Is this the user's primary device?). This is a much more elegant approach to application management, especially when coupled with the new concept of Deployment Types.  An application can have multiple deployment types (such as an upgrade, uninstall, virtual app, local install, mobile device version) and the deployment type can be triggered based on the Requirement Rules or Global Conditions.

#5 Software Center and Application Catalog

Keeping with the user-centric theme, the Software Center and Application Catalog is essentially an application that allows users to set some configurable settings as well as request  and install available applications. This "App Store" model can minimize some of the challenges associated with managing devices and applications for mobile technology-savvy users that are used to fending for themselves.

Note: Some of the terminology may change between Beta 2 and RTM.

These are my current favourite features but as time goes on I might find others that deprecate these. Over the next few months, I'll be sharing some more of my SCCM 2012 findings. Do you have a favourite new SCCM feature? Is there a feature that you have been waiting for? Let me know.